Woolbright’s Late Free Throws Lift Catamounts over MTSU
Vonterius Woolbright capped his second-consecutive double-double effort with a pair of game-winning free throws with three seconds remaining as Western Carolina earned a two-point, 66-64 road victory over Conference-USA preseason co-favorite Middle Tennessee on Monday night in the Murphy Center.
MTSU erased a five-point deficit over the final three minutes, knotting the game at 62 on a jumper by Jestin Porter with 18 seconds showing on the game clock. On the ensuing possession, the Catamounts put the ball in Woolbright’s hands against the MTSU 2-3 zone defense that had slowed WCU’s interior attack in the second half. The Albany, Ga., product drew a foul on his push to the basket then calmly stepped to the free throw line with three seconds remaining and sank a pair to push the visitors back in front.
Needing to go the length of the court, MTSU opted for the long baseball pass which was deflected and intercepted with Tre Jackson corralling the ball and dribbling out the final seconds to secure the road victory.
Just hours after earning the SoCon’s first men’s basketball player of the week honor, Woolbright continued his strong start to the season by scoring a game-high 21 points and boarding 12 misses including 11 on the defensive end to lead the Catamounts. He added a team-best five assists and made 7-of-10 from the free throw line including the go-ahead two late in the contest.
Woolbright was joined in double figures by sophomore DJ Campbell who posted his third-straight double-digit scoring effort with 14 points and eight rebounds. Transfer Corneilous Williams reached double figures for the first time in a Catamount uniform, finishing with 10 points while also adding eight boards. Russell Jones Jr. added seven points for WCU.
MTSU (2-1) was led by Elias King with 14 points on 4-of-16 shooting with a pair of 3-pointers, while Porter finished with 13 points including the game-tying bucket late. Porter added a team-best nine rebounds, seven on the defensive end.
For the second-straight game, WCU played from in front for much of Monday night’s game. After trailing for just 27 seconds against Notre Dame on Saturday, the Catamounts found themselves behind for just 34 total seconds against the Blue Raiders. Through three games and 120 combined minutes this season, WCU has trailed for just 2:59 total.
Neither team found much separation on the scoreboard in the first half as the opening 10 minutes saw a combined six ties with MTSU managing just a pair of one-point advantages. Tied at 19 midway through the first half, WCU broke free from the gridlock by scoring 10 of the next 11 points in a 10-to-1 spurt to take its largest lead of the opening stanza at 29-20 at the 6:21 mark. MTSU then whittled the lead down to two with 73 seconds remaining before the break with the Catamounts carrying a 37-33 lead into the half.
In the second half, Middle Tennessee managed to tie the game four times over the first six minutes, but the Catamounts held serve and never fell behind. Tied at 45 at the 13:50 mark, WCU outscored the Blue Raiders 10-0 to grab a game-high 10-point lead, 55-45, at the midpoint of the frame. During WCU’s streak, MTSU went 0-for-5 from the floor.
The hosts wouldn’t go away quietly, though, trimming the deficit back to two at the six-minute mark before WCU responded with a five-point spurt to push the margin back to seven less than two minutes later. The Catamounts had a tenuous five-point lead at the 3:03 mark before MTSU scored the game’s next five points to tie things at 64 with 18 ticks remaining, setting up Woolbright’s decisive charity tosses.
WCU managed to win the game from the free throw line in more ways than one on Monday as the Catamounts finished 16-of-22 (72.7%) while MTSU struggled from the stripe, shooting 52 percent on a 13-for-25 performance. Both teams struggled from long-range, combining for five made 3-pointers – two for WCU and three by the home squad, while the Catamounts outscored the Blue Raiders 42-to-28 in the paint.
Western Carolina (3-0) returns home for back-to-back home games at Ingles Court in the Ramsey Center this Saturday, Nov. 18 as McNeese State (3-0) makes its first appearance in Cullowhee in just the second series meeting all-time. The Cowboys scored an impressive 76-65 season-opening road victory at VCU and play a third-consecutive non-Division I opponent on Tuesday night before Saturday’s 4 p.m. tip-off in western North Carolina. WCU then hosts North Alabama in the first-ever meeting at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 26.
Both home games will be broadcast on ESPN+ (paid subscription required) with live stats available online through CatamountSports.com.